Song Hoot Kiam (b. 1830, Malacca–d. 7 October 1900, Singapore), after whom Hoot Kiam Road is named,1 is reputedly the forefather of the oldest Straits Chinese Christian family in Singapore. Influenced by sinologist and missionary James Legge, Song travelled to England to pursue his Christian education between 1846 and 1848. During this time, he was baptised and presented to Queen Victoria. He is best known for his contributions to the Straits Chinese Church at Prinsep Street.
The middle son of Song Eng Chong, Song was influenced by the Christian teachings of James Legge, then principal of the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca where Song was a boarder. In 1843, the school, along with Legge, was transferred to Hong Kong, while the Song family relocated to Singapore.2 Song overcame initial parental objections and, at Legge’s expense, travelled with his fellow Malaccan schoolmates, Lee Kim Leen and Ng Mun Sow, to Hong Kong to continue their studies with Legge.3 The boys began their first few months at the Anglo-Chinese College in Hong Kong, studying Cantonese. In 1845, Song, only 15 then, together with Lee and Ng, accompanied Legge to England when he was on furlough. Their journey on the Duke of Portland took six months.4
The young men began their theological studies at the Duchess of Gordon’s School in Scotland, remaining there until 1848.5 During this time they were baptised at the church where William Milne, missionary and the first principal of the Anglo-Chinese College, had been a member. Their conversion was widely reported. After a tour of England, with crowds gathering to catch a glimpse of Legge’s successful work among the Chinese, the boys were duly presented to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria on 5 February 1848.6 Legge continued to gain fame as a missionary and sinologist, serving as the first Professor of Chinese at Oxford University from 1876 to 1897.7 The relationship between Legge and the Chinese boys have been immortalised in an oft-circulated lithograph of Legge surrounded by three young Chinese men with long queues.8
Family and career
On his return to Singapore in 1849, Song married Yeo Choon Neo, a well-educated Straits Chinese girl. Their union is regarded as the start of the oldest Straits Chinese Christian family in Singapore.9 Influenced by his wife’s mentor, the headmistress of the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, Miss Grant, Song became a teacher at the Singapore Free School.10 Later in 1853, he found work at the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company as a cashier. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1895.11
Although Song did not turn to full-time Christian work as Legge had hoped, he remained highly regarded for his Christian work, serving alongside Benjamin Keasberry at the Straits Chinese Church at Prinsep Street. As a voluntary preacher, he gave sermons in Malay and English, leading many young Straits Chinese men to the faith. His singing voice saw him leading as precentor during chapel services, while his mathematical ability led him to become the chapel’s treasurer.12
After Yeo’s death, Song married Phan Fung Lean from a Penang Christian family in 1870. Their eldest child was Song Ong Siang, who was a noteworthy lawyer and author of One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore. Song later married a third time. He passed away in 1900, leaving behind five sons and nine daughters.13
Father: Song Eng Chong (b. 1799, Malacca–d. 1875, Singapore).
Siblings: Two brothers.14
1. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 153. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
2. Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 76 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Carl Smith, “A Sense of History (Part I),” Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society26 (1986): 154. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
3. Smith, “Sense of History (Part I),” 162.
4. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 76–77.
5. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 77.
6. Smith, “Sense of History (Part I),” 163–4; “Milne William,” Boston University School of Theology, accessed 25 October 2016.
7. “Collection Level Description: Papers of James Legge,” Bodleian Library University of Oxford, accessed 25 October 2016.
8. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 76.
9. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 78.
10. Smith, “Sense of History (Part I),” 166.
11. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 78.
12. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 78.
13. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 78–79.
14. Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 76.
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